Wednesday, December 30, 2009

צמחים עמידים בפני בצורת

צמחים עמידים בפני בצורת


Israel’s water tech hits the Valley


It is almost mind-boggling that Israel, a country with such a dearth of fresh water resources, has become a leader in water technologies. That is, until you learn about Mekorot.
Most of Israel's $1.4 billion in water tech exports last year wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the government-owned water carrier and water tech company, chairman Eli Ronen tells ISRAEL21c. Mekorot transformed Israel into a global water leader by making water research and policy a national priority decades ago.
Now Mekorot's expertise in water management, specifically in desalinating water, is on its way to south California. Ronen confirms that Mekorot has signed an MOU with Water Solutions Technologies (WST) of Fresno, California.
The company's activities in California will extend to water-poor areas such as Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions like it. The contract between Mekorot and WST was signed at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center where Ronen recently lectured to about 800 people about Israel's water solutions.

Fresno is America's number one agricultural producer and new solutions for the large quantities of water needed to sustain agriculture there are badly needed. Poor water allocations for farmers have forced them to leave thousands of acres to lie fallow and many farmers are in a holding pattern.
"California suffers from the same problems that Israel suffers from, especially in its southern parts and it needs to overcome these difficulties," says Ronen. "We hope to be the one who can help."

Allocation of Water

I like to pay attention to books and articles on water allocation in countries such as Israel and Australia. The part of Texas in which I live is subject to frequent droughts, but during the past 75 or 80 years, we have not had to worry much about water use, aside from restrictions on lawn watering in the summer. Israel and Australia are ahead of us in such areas as desalinating soil and growing drought resistant food crops.

In central Texas, we can easily import food from other states in the USA or from other countries. But increasing shortages of water and salinization of irrigated soils could change this situation, as could more frequent droughts in other parts of the world. In my own garden, I have learned to conserve water by mulching, using drip irrigation, growing perennial crops that can get by with less frequent watering, incorporating trees that produce "light" shade, such as mesquite, into the garden and planting annual food crops in such a way that they get partial shade from the trees.

The article below is about allocation of water in Israel. One of the author's suggestions for conserving water is to reduce agricultural exports and eliminate subsidies for agricultural water.

Stress Resistant Crops

VAI Researchers Find Long Awaited Key to Creating Drought Resistant Crops

Findings published in the journal Nature could help engineer hardier plants and have implications for stress disorders in humans

PR Log (Press Release)Dec 03, 2009 – Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) researchers have determined precisely how the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) works at the molecular level to help plants respond to environmental stresses such as drought and cold. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help engineer crops that thrive in harsh environments around the world and combat global food shortages. The findings could also have implications for stress disorders in humans.

VARI scientists have determined the structure of the receptors that plants use to sense ABA, a hormone that keeps seeds dormant and keeps buds from sprouting until the climate is right. Locating these receptors and understanding how they work is a key finding — one that has eluded researchers for nearly a half-century. This discovery is crucial to understanding how plants respond when they are under stress from extreme temperatures or lack of water.

“The plant community has been waiting for this discovery for many years,” said VARI Research Scientist Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., one of the lead authors of the study. “It could have major effects on nutrition and crop yields, especially as fresh water sources become scarcer.”

“The work by Dr. Xu and his colleagues, published in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, will undoubtedly become known as an historic defining moment in our understanding of the mode of action of the important plant hormone abscisic acid,” said Grand Valley State University Plant Development Biologist Sheila A. Blackman, Ph.D. “They show how the signaling molecule and its receptor initiate a cascade of events that ultimately affects the expression of genes that are critical for a plant’s survival under harsh conditions. This work has enormous implications for global food supply.”

Melcher works in the VARI Laboratory of Structural Biology led by Distinguished Scientific Investigator H. Eric Xu, Ph.D. The lab began studying abscisic acid signaling in March this year because a proposed ABA receptor was reported to be a member of G-protein coupled receptors, a group of proteins that the lab studies. More than 50% of all drugs on the market target these proteins, but it has been extremely difficult to determine their atomic structure.

Xu’s laboratory uses a technique known as X-ray crystallography to determine exactly how and why the drug compounds work in molecular detail, which can then help drug developers engineer more potent drugs that have fewer unwanted side effects.

Although it later resulted that the abscisic acid receptors were found to be members of another protein family, Xu’s lab continued their studies on the newly identified ABA receptors. Their findings could help to develop crops that grow in drought, cold, salt water environments, and other harsh conditions, perhaps aiding in stemming or reversing food shortages around the world. Additionally, proteins central to ABA sensing are related to human proteins involved in cellular stress responses and may have implications for stress disorders in humans.

“Proteins with similarities to plant ABA receptors are also found in humans,” said Xu. “Further studies in this area could reveal important implications for people with stress disorders.”

The lab worked with specialists in plant biology at other institutions to validate the data, including the National Center for Plant Gene Research in Beijing, China, the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California at Riverside, the Center for Plant Stress Genomics and Technology at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, and the Department of Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“A finding of this importance helps demonstrate how discoveries at the molecular level in plants can have profound implications for the diseases of humans.” said VARI President and Research Director Dr. Jeffrey Trent. “Remarkably Dr. Xu’s findings (made in only a few short months) will open a decade of research on both plants and man. From a key role in the ripening of fruit through increased understanding of how stress affects a myriad of diseases in man – this finding starts a new chapter in plant and animal biology.”

* The project described was supported by Grant Number 1R01GM087413-01 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Wonderful Pole Barn

My neighbor David and his crew finished working on my pole barn today, but I neglected to take a photo of it before dark. However, I have a photo taken last week, when the barn was pretty well along. The walls are 14 feet high. Looking up through the trusses, I get the feeling of being in a cathedral. I know that probably sounds silly. How can a utilitarian pole barn feel like a cathedral?

It is 25 feet wide by 36 feet long, with a lean-to on one end that extends the length another 10 feet. It's certainly the nicest garage/workshop I have ever owned.

Hard Times - Happy Day

Working on the land reclamation project was especially fun today, because of the glorious weather. There was frost on the grass this morning, but by 10:00 it was warm enough to work comfortably outside without a jacket. The afternoon was gorgeous -- clear, winter-blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze. Sitting in the garden planting fava beans, I felt perfectly content, but at the same time slightly guilty for being happy when so many people are having a terrible time.

There are always the background thoughts that at any given moment: someone in the world is dying of hunger, someone is being murdered, someone is being tortured, someone is being beaten. But today there was a more immediate sadness. A neighbor dropped by and told me that his wife has been diagnosed with lung cancer that has spread to her stomach. Why does my life continue on its happy way? I am no better than those people who are dying of hunger, whose bodies are serving as fuel for cancer cells.

I have, of course, lived through my own hard times, have come close to death on a couple of occasions; people I loved have died, and taken some part of me with them, into another dimension, or into emptiness. I am sure I will have hard times again in the future. As one gets older, hard times seem more likely. One's friends and family die off, getting up in the morning becomes painful. Death is always there, leaving little tweets and IM's in the form of an irregular beat of the heart or stinging pain the gut. So it is right, I think, to be happy while one can, within one's own small island of time and space. To cherish each calm, comfortable moment.

When digging a trench for a cable a couple of weeks ago, I came across the corner of what appeared to be an enamel-coated steel table top. This afternoon, I decided to dig it up. I was looking forward to using the table top for my outdoor kitchen. But it turned out to be something different (see photo). I think it may be the top of a rectangular electric water heater. There is a Permaglas label on the vertical portion. Well. So I didn't get my table top, but I'm sure I will find some use for the thing.

I do not believe there is even a square inch of this place that does not contain some kind of discarded human-made object. Some of it is useful, but what does one do with filthy wads of fiberglass insulation or small, disintegrating bits of gypsum board? I suppose the latter could be used in the garden.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Very Easy Baked Custard

Big Daddy Geoffrey, our Brahma Rooster

4 eggs
2 1/2 c. milk
sugar or other sweetener to taste

Beat the eggs moderately well. Put the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla into a sauce pan and beat gently until mixed. Heat the mixture until hot, but not boiling. Place in baking dish, sprinkle more nutmeg over the top if desired and bake in a 325 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Healthier Eggs

Everyone who has eaten eggs from chickens who run loose in the grass and chickens raised in cages or warehouses knows that eggs from pastured chickens have a far superior color, structure, and taste. One would logically expect the eggs from pastured chickens to also be healthier.

Mother Earth News had eggs tested from 14 flocks in different parts of the U.S.

They found that, as compared with eggs from penned or warehoused hens, the eggs from pastured hens had:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
This is not a huge sample size, and the article does not go into details such as the variance within the results. Nevertheless, they are interesting results, and there are other studies showing similar results. The article points out what one could easily guess just by looking at the thin shells and pale yolks of warehoused "free range" chicken eggs sold in supermarkets. The USDA definition of "free range" includes hens who live in crowded warehouses and never see a blade of grass in their lives. I have a picture of such a place in another entry on this blog:
Given the misleading USDA definition, factory farms can label eggs from warehoused hens as "free range" and gullible people pay twice as much, or more, as they would pay for factory farm eggs laid by caged hens. As pathetic a life as caged hens lead, the lives led by warehoused hens is probably even more terrible.
On a happier note, my hens have a pleasant wooden house where they roost at night, and in the day time they run around eating whatever plants appeal to them, and scratching in the soil for insects. Here are the eggs I gathered from mine over the past week (minus the ones we ate).

The green and pinkish ones are from the Ameracaunas. The brown ones are from the Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques. The eggs themselves are pretty, but it's what's inside that really counts. The yolks are deep orange-yellow, rather than the insipid pale yellow of warehoused or caged hens. You should see how easy it is to separate the yolks from the whites!

Lentils & Rice


  • 1.5 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • onions to taste
  • enough olive oil to sauté lentils, rice & onions
  • enough water to cook rice & beans
  • lemon juice, cumin, pepper, salt to taste
I use a slow cooker, but of course you can use a cooking pot of any kind, preferably a heavy one that will maintain a uniform temperature so the rice & lentils will not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. You can avoid sticking and burning by keeping the heat low and stirring from time to time.

Clean the lentils and rice, put them into a pot, pour in the water and start the slow cooker or bring the pot to simmer. If you want to add flavor, you can sauté the rice and beans before putting them into the slow cooker, or if you are using a cooking pot on the stove, you can saute them right in the pot before adding water. Sauté the onions until they are just beginning to turn brown and add them to the rice & beans after the rice and beans have been cooking for a while.

Cook until the rice and beans are tender and ready to eat.

I like to add the other ingredients toward the end, when the lentils and rice are almost ready to serve.

Terra Cotta Composters

These are attractive terra cotta kambhas

You can buy a license to "clone" this business to produce and sell these terra cotta composters. Far as I know, these are not being sold in the U.S.

Here is an article that shows one of these kambhas in use:

I found a U.S. terra cotta composter for sale online from $168 to $189. It is not as attractive as the Daily Dump abd cannot be stacked, but it appears to have one technological advantage: a small door at the bottom that can be opened to take out fully composted material.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Desalinating Drip-Irrigation System

This patent is for a system that uses microporous hydrophobic materials such as Goretex to desalinate salt water within irrigation pipes that deliver the desalinated water directly to the root zones of plants.

I was thinking that something like this would be good to have and wondered if anyone had come up with a prototype. So I searched the Internet using the terms "desalination salt water irrigation," and found this patent application. Far as I know, this system is not being produced commercially. Based on the drawing that accompanies the patent application, the hydrophobic membranes are around the outer edges of the pipes.

My idea was to divide the pipe into two sections, separated by the membrane. Saltwater would flow along the bottom section of the pipe; water vapor would rise through the membrane and condense along the top of the pipe. The pipe would have small openings just above the membrane, to release the water to the soil. This would be simpler to make than the system described in the patent application, but there may be some reason this would not work well. For example, maybe the water has to be under pressure to keep the holes from clogging up with soil.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tea Shortage from Droughts in Kenya and India

A global tea shortage may increase by 10 per cent next year as drought in Kenya, Sri Lanka and India, the top exporters, damage crops and propel prices to a record, the world’s biggest tea plantation company said.
The deficit may widen to 110 million kg (243 million pounds) by May to June next year, compared with 100 million kg this year, Aditya Khaitan, managing director, of McLeod Russel India, said in an interview. Record tea prices in Kenya and India may gain another 15 per cent in the next 12 months, he said.
Reduced supplies will increase costs for tea marketing companies including Tata Tea, owner of Tetley brands, and Unilever, while boosting earnings at producers McLeod, Goodricke Group and Jayshree Tea & Industries. African tea prices rose to a record at auctions on August 29, while Indian prices have gained an average 25 per cent this year.
“I don’t see any relief for tea consumers for the next one year,” said Harsh Gupta, an analyst at SMC Global Securities. “The global shortage isn’t likely to be overcome anytime soon as prices will firm up further.”
Stagnant prices for almost a decade since 1999 caused some tea estates to close and forced plantation companies to cut investment in replanting old bushes and adding new machines, said McLeod Russel’s Khaitan. “Tea is playing a catch-up with other agriculture commodities, which have shot up in the past couple of years,” he said. “The tea deficit is here to stay and the prices will continue to rise.”

USDA Report - Food Insecurity in U.S.

The USDA has recently released a report stating that 14.5% of U.S. households lack adequate food at times. The data for the report were obtained through surveying a sample of 44,000 households in the U.S.

Questions asked included:

Worried food would run out before (I/we) got money to buy more
Food bought didn’t last and (I/we) didn’t have money to get more
Couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals
Adult(s) cut size of meals or skipped meals
Relied on few kinds of low-cost food to feed child(ren)

Not surprisingly, food insecurity is associated with poverty.

Judging by the raw data reported, of the people who answered "yes" to questions such as the ones shown above, very few people frequently went hungry. Most of them reported that their "yes" answers only applied now and then.

I live in one of the poorest communities in the U.S. and most of the people I encounter are overweight, many of them grossly obese. In the grocery store, I see fat people checking out carts full of soft drinks, white bread, boxes of sugary cereal, candy and so forth. It is not uncommon to see full carts that contain no nutritious food at all. For the cost of the junk people waste their money on, they could have bought fresh vegetables, whole grain products, beans, and other nutritious foods. Based on my observations, the problem in the U.S. (at least for people who live in houses or apartments with kitchens) is more ignorance or negligence rather than actual unavailability of food. This would not be true for people who are living on the streets, but I doubt that houseless people were included in the USDA survey.

More American households had difficulty putting enough food on the table in 2008

In 2008, 85 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year, but 14.6 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during that year, up from 11.1 percent in 2007.

This is the highest recorded prevalence rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the first national food security survey was conducted.

The Gift of Strength

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7 (cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 249: 6-13)

There are eight degrees of tzedakah, each higher than the next. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid. With reference to such aid, it is said, “You shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 25:35), which means strengthen him in such a manner that his falling into want is prevented.

From the Ground Up

Unlike many organizations involved in fighting hunger, AJWS generally doesn’t provide food handouts. While this might appear to be a good short-term solution – and we do give food relief during times of disaster, such as the 2004 tsunami or the cyclone in Burma in spring 2008 – it’s an ineffective way to end global hunger and, in some ways, actually perpetuates it.

AJWS’s philosophy is predicated on the highest rung of Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, which is designed to make the recipient self-sufficient. Or drawing on other traditions, our approach is aligned with the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Of course, it’s not just about men and it’s not just about fishing. But people want to be able to feed themselves and need to do so if they have any hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty and oppression that leads to hunger, generation after generation.

AJWS supports more than 80 projects in Africa, Asia and Latin and Central America that are fighting hunger themselves – from the ground up.

See also: Dryland Permaculture

Water Crisis in Yemen

Rain falls here in Tilmon. The trees, many of which had lost their leaves during the drought, have leafed out, and the grass grows. Pastures and woods vibrate with multiple shades of green.

We are lucky that world weather patterns have shifted, at least for now. There is a chance our lakes and aquifers will fill before the next drought. Already, ponds and cisterns are full.

The water from the well here, which had become almost unbearably foul smelling, has lost almost all its sulfurous odor.

We are safe here in south central Texas, for now. But some of us here would have starved to death, if we had not been able to draw on food and water resources from other parts of the state and world.

When I hear or read stories such as the one below about Yemen, I remember the drought on 1996 - 1997 when our 15 foot deep pond shrank to a muddy puddle. A great blue heron would come each day and wade all the way across the pond, eating whatever was still alive in there. I remember days when rain clouds would build up and approach so close I could smell the rain. But the never reached us. I would be so filled with despair I would cry or scream (our closest neighbors were over a mile away, so I could scream if I felt like it). The sun burned the garden crops to a crisp. My daughter and I would surely have been forced to abandon our land, if we had not been able to buy food and water. And what if we had been unable to buy food and water, and there had been no place to go? I have never known true hunger, where one's body begins to mine its own muscles for the energy to keep on going. Therefore, I cannot even imagine what it is like to be, for example, a Somalian refugee in Yemen.

This past year, as I watched the garden crops shrivel and die, I was awfully thankful for the full shelves in the grocery stores, and the money in my purse that made it possible for me to walk out of the store with a cart full of food.

One of the saddest things about the situation in Yemen is that all but the most arid regions were once fertile. The Romans called it Arabia Felix (Happy Arabia). Mismanagement of water resources is at least partly responsible for the present environmental crisis.

NPR Story:
Lately, the news from Yemen has been dominated by an escalating rebellion along the border with Saudi Arabia. But for water experts, Yemen has been making news for decades because of its severe overuse of a rapidly disappearing water supply.
In 1998, Abdul Rahman al-Eryani was a young local aid worker explaining the desperate water situation in Ta'iz, south of the capital, San'a. Water was so scarce that some households only had it once every six weeks.
Eleven years later, Eryani is now the Yemeni government minister of water and environment, Ta'iz residents are still waiting six weeks for water to flow from the tap, and in San'a, the situation has gone from bad to looming disaster.
"We are in crisis. And this is expected. … We are using almost 100 percent more than the annual renewable water that's available in San'a," Eryani says.
The alluvial aquifers closer to the surface have been exhausted, and drill bits must now chew through more than 3,000 feet of earth before reaching the ancient sandstone aquifer that holds what Eryani believes is the last of San'a's reachable underground supply.
No one knows precisely when the water supply will run out, but there's no doubt that it will, and probably sooner rather than later.
Yemenis are responding by drilling illegal wells and pumping more water than ever.
Nature And Policy Blunders To Blame
On a recent day, well water gushes into Hassan al-Jibouri's tanker truck at a roadside pump along one of San'a's main streets. Jibouri and his fellow drivers spend their days selling water to hotels, restaurants and private homes.
He says a typical water delivery costs 1,000 rials, or about $5. If he has to drive a long distance, it might cost a bit more.
Yemen's water crisis is, in part, the inevitable result of a rapidly growing population, limited rainfall and finite water resources.

But experts and ordinary Yemenis agree that policy blunders have accelerated the crisis and made it harder to fix.
First, there is the massive problem of agriculture. Despite the severe shortages of drinking water, at least 85 percent of Yemen's available water goes to agriculture, where huge amounts are wasted.
For centuries, Yemeni farmers captured rainwater for their crops. But in the 1970s, well-intentioned international groups such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund showed up with a raft of incentives to get farmers to drill wells and use underground aquifers instead.
Anwer Sahooly is a water expert with the German Development Corp., a major player in Yemen's water reform efforts. He says more than 1 million acres of farmland that used to be rain-fed are now irrigated with underground water, using inefficient methods that lose vast amounts of water to evaporation and leakage.
"We have to reverse the process now, and make people get used to rainwater harvesting. We have to encourage harvesting from floods, from spit irrigation, from every drop that we get, and stop drilling any more wells," he says.
Cash Crop Depletes Water Supply
Despite a new law outlawing most private wells, the drilling goes on. The sound of water pumps can be heard on farm plots all around the capital. The most popular crop of all is khat, a plant that produces a mildly narcotic leaf that Yemenis love to chew.
Small farmer Abdullah al-Jidri, sporting a softball-sized wad of khat leaves in his left cheek, says many farmers would be happy to grow fruits, vegetables and grains, but they can't live without the cash brought in by khat.
"With food crops, we have to wait for a year or longer to get a harvest, and if there's a problem, you won't get a crop. But with khat, you just put some water on it and you have leaves in a month's time that you can sell immediately. It's a cash crop," he says.
When asked whether he's heard that the government wants farmers to stop growing khat to save water, Jidri and his brother laugh.
"Don't believe the officials. They ask us to grow more khat for them to chew," he says.
Other than cash for farmers, Yemenis agree that khat produces no benefit, and in fact impairs the productivity of much of the labor force most afternoons. But efforts to curtail khat production and consumption are so far largely ineffectual.
Water A Hard Sell Amid Other Problems
Some long-term reforms are under way, notably the decentralization of water management to the local level. Officials are also replacing open-channel water lines and flood irrigation methods with more efficient pipes and drip hoses.
But Sahooly, the water expert, says it is hard to bring water to the top of the agenda in a country with so many problems.
"It's very important in my opinion that there should be a champion, at the level of the president, vice president, always talking about water issues. All civilization has grown around water. Water is life, and we have known that for a long time," he says.
At the moment, however, a violent rebellion, secessionist movements and a growing al-Qaida presence are drowning out the voices of those warning that a massive water failure could soon be Yemen's biggest problem of all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aaron Aaronsohn

Aaron Aaronsohn discovered Triticum dicoccoides, emmer wheat, thought to be wild ancestor of domestic wheat.
His parents were Romanian Zionists -- the family moved to Palestine when Aaron was six years old. Aaronsohn established the first agricultural research station in Israel.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Surviving 344 Days in a Cave

“My mother always said, ‘We are not going to the slaughterhouse.’ She said to my brother, Nissel, ‘Go to the forest, find a hole, anything.’ Thanks to him, we survived.”

The night of October 12, 1942, when the Stermers finally ran for good, was moonless and unseasonably cold. The roads in and out of the town of Korolowka, deep in the farm country of western Ukraine, were empty of the cart traffic that had peaked during the fall harvest days. After a month of backbreaking work, most residents had already drifted off to sleep.

Zaida Stermer, his wife, Esther, and their six children dug up their last remaining possessions from behind their house, loaded their wagons with food and fuel, and, just before midnight, quietly fled into the darkness. Traveling with them were nearly two dozen neighbors and relatives, all fellow Jews who, like the Stermers, had so far survived a year under the German occupation of their homeland. Their destination, a large cave about five miles to the north, was their last hope of finding refuge from the Nazis’ intensifying roundups and mass executions of Ukrainian Jews.

The dirt track they rode on ended by a shallow sinkhole, where the Stermers and their neighbors unloaded their carts, descended the slope, and squeezed through the cave’s narrow entrance. In their first hours underground, the darkness around them must have seemed limitless. Navigating with only candles and lanterns, they would have had little depth perception and been able to see no more than a few feet. They made their way to a natural alcove not far from the entrance and huddled in the darkness. As the Stermers and the other families settled in for that first night beneath the cold, damp earth, there was little in their past to suggest that they were prepared for the ordeal ahead.

* * *

At the surface, Priest’s Grotto is little more than a weedy hole in the ground amid the endless wheat fields stretching across western Ukraine. A short distance away, a low stand of hardwoods withers in the heat and is the only sign of cover for miles around. With the exception of a shallow, 90-foot-wide depression in the flat ground, there’s nothing to indicate that one of the longest horizontal labyrinths in the world lies just underfoot.

On the afternoon of July 18, 2003, I am standing with Chris Nicola, a leading American caver, at the bottom of the sinkhole, sorting our gear. It has taken us four days, traveling by jet, train, and finally ox cart, to get here from New York City. Our guides, 46-year-old Sergey Yepephanov and 24-year-old Sasha Zimels, are standing next to the rusting three-foot-wide metal entrance pipe that leads underground.

I’ve come here to explore Priest’s Grotto for the first time. For Nicola, a 20-year veteran of major cave systems in the U.S. and Mexico, our expedition is the culmination of a journey that began in 1993, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, when he became one of the first Americans to explore Ukraine’s famous Gypsum Giant cave systems. His last excursion was here, to the cave known locally as Popowa Yama, or Priest’s Grotto, because of its location on land once owned by a parish priest.At 77 miles, Priest’s Grotto is the second longest of the Gypsum Giants and currently ranks as the tenth longest cave in the world. Yet what Nicola found fascinating about the cave was located just minutes inside the entrance: Soon after they’d set out, his group passed two partially intact stone walls and other signs of habitation including several old shoes, buttons, and a hand-chiseled millstone. Nicola’s guides from the local caving association told him the campsite had already been there when their group first explored that portion of the cave in the early 1960’s.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Romany Vardo

Reclaimed Space - Austin

Here's another local business that builds houses in their shop using recycled materials, and delivers them to the site.

Tiny Texas Houses

This is in Luling, Texas, right down the road from my weekend place. These houses are built from bits and pieces taken from old houses. Just came across this on the Web. Will definitely have to go over and take a look.

Dee Williams - 84 sq ft house

The video is an interview with a woman who moved from a 1500 sq ft house to an 84 sq ft cabin.

I got interested in tiny houses when I bought a 12 acre tract of land near Lockhart. As much as I love my garden in Lockhart, I decided to move my weekend home to the 12 acres.

It is a peculiar tract of land, only 200 feet across at the widest point, tapering to 20 feet at the far western end. There is not much one could do with such a long, skinny piece of land except grow plants. The gardening possibilities were what sold me on this land.

The eastern end of the tract has slightly acidic sandy loam soil and is at the top of a hill. There is an old farmhouse there, situated in just the right spot to get the constant eastern breeze that cools the house every summer afternoon. The western end, which is on the banks of a creek, has alkaline clay soil. There are three distinct bioregions on this one tract of land, three different sets of flora. I can grow anything here that will survive the climate: azaleas and blueberries at the east end; pecan trees in the creek bottom; asparagus somewhere in between.

I decided to rent out the house in Lockhart -- 1600 sq ft is far more space than I need for a weekend house anyhow.

I bought a used travel trailer and moved it to the 12 acres. At 252 sq ft my trailer is a mansion compared to Dee Williams's house (in the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that Dee's house has a loft that adds probably 50 sq ft of living space, but still). It has things Dee's house lacks, such as a shower and 3-burner stove. I don't think I would be happy with Dee's house, but to my surprise, I love the trailer. It is so compact and efficient! I can get up from my "desk" (which is also the dining table) and take two steps to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. There is even storage space for tools under the bed (it can be accessed through a door on the outside of the trailer). The bathroom is a bit crowded at the moment, because I have a composting toilet in addition to the toilet that came with the trailer. I don't want to use the built-in toilet, but I have not gotten around to removing it.

After having such a pleasant experience with the trailer, I got interested in other types of compact houses, which is how I happened to find the article and video on Dee's tiny cabin.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Proboscidea parviflora

Source of image:

Proboscidea parviflor also known as Devil's Claw or Unicorn Plant is a wildflower or weed (depending on one's viewpoint) whose immature pods can take the place of okra in recipes and whose rip pods can be used in basket making and other crafts. The seeds are also edible -- they are better to eat when young, before they develop a hard coat.

The ones growing on my land have attractive pink & white trumpet-shaped flowers. In a severe drought, such as the one we have just been through here in central Texas, they go semi-dormant and renew themselves with the coming of rain.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Killer Spices


Aug. 17, 2009 -- The next generation of pesticides might smell as sweet as rosemary, cinnamon and thyme.

These spices, among others, are proving to be potent insect-fighters that are gentle on the environment and safe for humans, said entomologist Murray Isman, of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., Isman said that insects are also less likely to develop resistance to spice extracts than conventional chemicals.

The concept is not new: For centuries, people have been using oil extracts from pungent plants to protect their food. Now, scientists are finally figuring out how these essential oils get their pest-battling powers and how people might better harness them.

"There was some magic in how nature has gone about doing this," Isman said. "Our research is trying to figure out which essential oils work best for which applications."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Priming Lettuce Seeds for Summer Germination

My lettuce was pretty much finished by June this year, as it has been especially hot and dry in Central Texas. I believe this is the worst drought on record since the devastating drought of the early 1950's.

I have heard people claim to grow lettuce in the summer in south central Texas and have wondered how they get the seeds to germinate when daytime temps are in the 100's, and nighttime minimums are in the high 70's. Since no one has ever given me a straight answer, I suspect they were purchasing seedlings at a plant nursery.

Meanwhile, I found some interesting info on priming lettuce seeds to promote germination even in warm weather: Why prime seed? by H.J. Hill, Seed Physiologist, Seed Dynamics, Inc.

Among other things, the article explains why lettuce seed requires both light and cool temperatures to germinate. It goes on to say that one can achieve good germination even at high temperatures is the seeds are primed.

The article was written for commercial growers and does not offer techniques home gardeners can use to prime seeds. What I do is fold a paper towel in half and spray it with water until it is damp but not soaking wet. Then I put the lettuce seeds on one half of the exposed surface of the paper towel, and fold the other half over. The paper towel is thin enough to let light through, which is important, as lettuce seeds need light to germinate. To keep the towel moist, I put it into a plastic bag, but I make sure the bag is open. The seeds will die if they do not get oxygen, same as an animal would die if you put a plastic bag over its head.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dryland Permaculture - Continued

Starting gardens in very dry area of Botswana

How termites improve soil

Central Victoria - industrial farming turning land into desert

Dryland Permaculture - Kalahari Desert

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fava Beans

Suddenly, the fava beans are ready to harvest, at least it seems sudden, since I've been away in San Antonio for a couple of days.

I harvested a mixture of Egyptian fava beans and Super-agua-dulce (from Italy) this evening and prepared them as follows:

  • Pick, shell, and peel beans
  • Boil in water until tender
  • Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, chopped chives
  • Salt to taste
They were heavenly! It's amazing how the flavors of these ingredients blend -- you'd swear there was meat and cheese in there somewhere! I don't know whether favas from a grocery store would be as good. I've never bought any and never eaten dried ones from the garden, so I have no idea what they're like other than freshly picked.

Spinach, also from the garden, was the perfect accompaniment. The meal took about 10 minutes to prepare once the beans were shelled and peeled. Peeling fava beans is a nuisance. But it's not so bad, really. In fact, shelling and peeling fava beans while sitting on the kitchen step looking over the herb and flower garden is downright therateuptic. Sitting there, listening to a flock of grackles who'd stop by to visit, I could view the hectic week I had at work from afar, like a distant memory of a book I read once, a long time ago.

A Visit to the Antique Rose Emporium

Although I sometimes wish I could spend every day in the garden, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that there are many things about my double country/city life that I enjoy. Two of these are Fanick's Nursery and the Antique Rose Emporium, both in San Antonio. I can drive from San Antonio to Lockhart via IH-10 which takes me east to Luling, where I exit and drive north to Lockhart; or via IH-35, which takes me north to San Marcos, where I exit and drive east to Lockhart. Both routes are about the same distance and take about the same amount of time. The IH-10 route passes within a mile or so of Fanick's Nursery, and the IH-35 route within a few miles of the Antique Rose Emporium. I took IH-35 today.

It's worth going to the Antique Rose Emporium just to stroll through the gardens, but of course I can never resist buying a plant or two. They have an overwhelming selection of roses and also sell a wide assortment of ornamentals, herbs, shrubs, and vegetable starts. I had to hurry past the tomato seedlings without looking too closely, to avoid being tempted, since I had excellent germination of all the seeds I planted and already have more tomato plants than I need.

I bought a Duchess de Brabant shrub rose for a hedge-in-process, an ox-eye daisy, a John Fanick phlox (I planted two last year, and they performed so beautifully, I wanted to add another), and a couple of white blooming pentas. And some marigolds in flower, because I just can't wait until the ones I started from seed are old enough to bloom.

The pic is of sweet peas planted in a container. What a great idea! The sweet peas in my Lockhart garden are only about 6 inches high right now. Lockhart is about 45 miles north of San Antonio and lags about 3 weeks behind in the spring, but the ARE's sweet peas must be at least a month ahead of mine. Need to plant them earlier next year.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obamas Will Have Veggie Garden at Whitehouse

I was very happy to see this news today:

On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Time For Real

Spring sneaked up on me this year, perhaps because the countryside was so dry there were no wildflowers to speak of. Seems as though one week I was thinking there might still be time to plant some more garden peas, then suddenly the mesquite trees are leafing out and it's time to plant corn.

I took off work early today and spent the last few hours of the afternoon in the garden. There was a wonderful point just to the west of the southwest corner of the house where the scents of jasmine and sophora mingled. I do wish I could make odographs, but to do it right, one would have to capture the warm Gulf breeze, because that too was part of the whole effect.

There were scores of butterflies visiting the flowers, and later in the evening moths, but only a few bees.

The potatoes are poking their snouts out of the ground, but no sign yet of the corn and sunflowers I planted over the weekend. Garden surprises of the day: tiny volunteer basil cotyledons coming up all over the kitchen door herb & flower garden and a pale yellow Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly sipping from the deep purple petunias.

I planted Weinlanderin beans this evening, just before dark.

Monday, March 16, 2009

HR 875

I am concerned about laws with vague language aimed at food producers. It would be tragic if local food producers such as Will Allen were regulated out of business. As with most government regulation, the food regulation laws have the potential to harm small businesses, while large businesses will be able to get their people on regulatory boards, bribe regulators, and so forth. Here's the text of a letter I sent to a local Congressman:

March 7, 2009

Mr. Henry Cuellar
336 Cannon HOB
Washington DC 20515

RE: HR 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

Dear Congressman Cuellar,

I live in San Antonio, and have a country home in eastern Caldwell County. Thus, I barely miss being one of your constituents. However, I communicate on a regular basis with your constituents, some of whom are my clients, some of whom sell me goods and services.

I am writing to you today, because you are a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, to which HR 875 has been referred. While government regulation of industrial scale agricultural producers and food processors may be a good thing, we do not need regulation of small farmers who sell their produce locally. In fact, this law as written could put small farmers and farmer’s markets out of business and destroy a source of food at a time when many food producing regions of the world are experiencing severe drought and food shortage is of real concern.

The bill as written is so broad that it could even be applied to backyard gardeners, and the definition of contaminant is so vague that the law could end up making organic farming illegal, since organic produce sometimes contains insects.

This is NOT the time to put small farmers out of business! Please consider the implications of the bill as written, and insist on amending it to exempt small farmers who sell their produce locally.


Barbara Lamar

Growing Power in Urban Food Desert


The store at Growing Power’s Milwaukee farm is the only place for miles around that carries fresh produce, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and homegrown honey. Even in winter, customers find the handmade shelves and aging coolers stocked with fresh-picked salad greens.
Growing Power co-director Karen Parker, who has worked alongside Allen since the project started, says, “It’s a wonderful thing to change people’s lives through changing what they’re eating.” Parker believes her parents would have lived much longer with a healthier diet. She takes a deep pride in providing fresh, healthy food. “Last summer during the salmonella problem with tomatoes, I was able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to worry. These tomatoes were grown right here.’ I found myself selling out of tomatoes.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blowing the Tops Off Mountains

Here's another reason to to learn how to live well using less electricity, at least until there are better methods of producing it than oil and coal. Videos like this should be required viewing for everyone who uses electricity produced from burning coal.

Appalachian Voices is a website devoted to fighting the practice of mining coal via mountaintop removal. This process involves clear cutting the forests, then removing several hundred feet of soil and stone in order to expose seams of coal. This is done with explosives. The soil and stone are pushed off into valleys, disrupting the flow of streams and burying topsoil.

Homes and people located near the mining operations are damaged in the following ways: structural damage caused by the shock of the blasting; ground water contamination; flooding caused by blocking valley streams; polluted air caused by the blasting.

One of the most traumatic moments of my life was when I was around 10 years old. There was a creek I thought of as my friend. I knew the place it started, bubbling out of the ground and forming a pool that was ringed around with horsetail reeds. I would often follow the creek through the woods to where it joined a larger creek that had a sandy bottom and flowed through a pasture where the sun broke into hundreds of sparkling jewels on the water's surface. There were small black catfish that lived in the creek. I loved to sit very still with my feet in the water and let the black catfish nibble my toes. One day when I came to visit the creek, the water was black, and all the plants that lined the creek were dead. There was an oil well being drilled on a neighbor's land, and the drilling had somehow polluted the spring that fed my creek. I screamed and cried and beat my fists against the ground. I was furious with my parents, who did nothing about this terrible thing that had happened. Several months after the drilling had stopped, the spring ran clear again, and the creek looked almost as it had before. But I never again saw those black catfish.

It makes me cry to think of what's happening in Appalachia. I don't know whether any animal species will die off, never to return, as my catfish did; but the damage to the land is far, far more serious. Nature is robust, and spoiled land tends to recover surprisingly quickly. But I'd guess it will take hundreds, maybe thousands, of years for the mountains to recover from what the coal companies are doing.

Spread Sheet for Seeds

I got the idea from Carol of May Dreams to keep an inventory of seeds on a spread sheet. It was such a great idea, I didn't even procrastinate but started right in on it.

Here are my headings:

1. Description
2. Source
3. Date (on packet if purchased, or when given if a gift)
4. Date Planted
5. Germination (% germination)
6. Comments - this includes how well the seeds grew, whether the plants were as the seed producer advertised, whether the plants were uniform, etc. It also includes where the seeds are stored. Since I lived in two different places, I sometimes have trouble remembering where I've put a packet or jar of seeds (I keep saved seeds in various recycled containers).

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

This post is for Carol's blog, May Dreams, where people from all over the world share what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

Rain at last in central Texas! Many trees are beginning to leaf out, and some of the peaches and pears are blooming. But let me not waste words when I have pictures. This is chicory, which I planted once, because I like to put a few leaves in salads. It reseeds itself with abandon.

Cyclmen is a luxury -- requires protection from freezing, likes moisture but hates wet feet, doesn't like the hottest days of summer.

Jasmine takes care of itself, long as there isn't a hard freeze. In fact, it tends to be somewhat invasive, but I can't hold that against it when it gives me such beautiful, fragrant flowers in the early spring.

I've never grown Osteospermum before. I bought this one at the grocery store a few weeks ago -- it had just arrived from a wholesale nursery, so it was still in good shape. It settled into its spot in my garden as though it had been there all its life.

I love the delicate colors of pear blossoms and pink evening primrose.

Of course, I have to bring some of the spring beauty into the house.

Here's a list (although I always forget a few):

roses (all of them are blooming except Fortune's Double Yellow, which seems to be suffering from the drought, although I did water it from time to time throughout the winter)

pansies & violas
dill, parsley, and cilantro (I use the clusters of tiny blooms in flower arrangements, as well as in the kitchen)
artichoke (first buds of the season are forming!)
salvia - Indigo Spires & native cedar sage
pear & peach trees
a few late blooming tulips
spider wort
Sophora (Texas Mountain Laurel)
a few vounteer zinnias (the little pink ones that must be similar to the wild form of the flower)
a few late blooming narcissus
plumbago (in protected locations)
oleander (budding)
patio tomato in protected location south of house (already forming fruit)


lettuce & other cool weather salad greens
turnip greens
Swiss chard (silver beet)
beet greens
fava beans
garden peas
a few Chandler strawberries (when I can beat the birds to them)
green onions
garlic leaves
cilantro, parsley, chives, dill, etc.


Irish potatoes
sweet peas
tomato, chile, and eggplant starts (moved from seedling flat to 3 in containers)
marigolds, zinnias, vinca in seedling flats



Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why to Boycott GM Food Products

Leaving health issues aside, because there is not enough evidence one way or the other -- the reason anyone who values his or her life should refuse to buy GM foods is that the courts in the U.S. and Canada have interpreted the patent laws in such a way as to make it impossible for anyone, even home gardeners, to save their own seeds for any crops that can cross pollinate with plants whose DNA contains patented genes.

The videos in my two previous posts illustrate the law in action.

Monsanto Continued


ille potens sui
laetusque deget, cui licet in diem
dixisse "vixi: cras vel atra
nube polum Pater occupato

vel sole puro; non tamen irritum,
quodcumque retro est, efficiet neque
diffinget infectumque reddet,
quod fugiens semel hora vexit."

-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus

I have lived this afternoon pulling weeds in the garden, breathing the scent of Sophora flowers as the mocking bird sang. This evening I looked at photographs (on a stranger's blog) that were like reliving a day of my childhood. No matter what happens tomorrow, this peaceful beautiful day, was mine.

Here's the photo blog that was somehow like seeing the world through my own four year old eyes:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Serenading Mockingbird

The mockingbird who hangs out in the pecan trees near my Lockhart house has been singing his heart out tonight, running through a range of central Texas birds from bluejays to cardinals to crows to hawks to sparrows -- though I have not yet heard him attempt the whining of a paisano or the hooing of an owl. There are no paisanos here in town, so perhaps he's never heard one, but owls come around from time to time.

I can't pick a favorite bird, but there are 4 I especially like: the paisano, aka road runner; the cara cara, aka Mexican eagle; the mocking bird; and the Eastern meadowlark. Eastern meadowlarks don't seem to live in central Texas. I've only ever heard one around here. I remember them from mornings in Houston and Austin County, Texas when I was a kid.

The paisano I like because of its curiosity and entertaining vocals, including its puppy-dog whine.

The crested cara cara I like because it is beautiful when it soars but at the same time very practical and down-to-earth, being quite willing to clean up a mess of carrion when the opportunity arises. Here are some especially lovely photos of crested cara caras: I would love to paste one in here, but the photographer is a professional who makes a living with his photography. His photos are so beautiful I am tempted to ask for his price.

The mockingbird I like because of its wide range of vocals and its playful and occasionally belligerent personality (which is amusing to see in a small bird but which would be a terrible thing if the bird were 10 times its actual size).

The Eastern meadowlark I like because of its yellow breast (yellow has been my favorite color ever since I was a very small child; probably ever since I was able to distinguish one color from another) and its song, which always spoke to me of hope and joy.

The Hacker's Diet

This is one of the few diet books I've seen that makes sense, combining both the engineering aspects of weight control (e.g. how much exercise will burn 1 kcal of fuel; how much fuel is available from various foods), and diet management (how to successfully apply the knowledge one has about exercise and food). Don't be put off by the facetious subtitle (How to Lose Weight and Hair Through Stress and Poor Nutrition).

Here's an excerpt:

Weight: what's the connection?

Management in isolation struggles with constraints that can frequently be eliminated. Engineering in isolation seeks permanent fixes which sometimes don't exist and, even when found, often require an ongoing effort to put into place and maintain. Each needs the other to truly solve a problem. So it is with controlling your weight. First, you must fix the problem of not knowing when and how much to eat. As long as you lack that essential information, you'll never get anywhere. Then, you have to use that information to permanently manage your weight.
Diet books reflect the division between engineers and managers. When they focus on a ``magic diet,'' they're seeking a quick fix. When they preach about ``changing your whole lifestyle,'' they're counseling endless coping with a broken system. This book presents an engineering fix to the underlying problem, then builds a management program upon it to truly solve the problem of being overweight.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Countries Rated on Amount of Government Corruption

World-Wide Food Crisis 2009

In Central Texas, we are experiencing the worst drought since 1918. Another cold front just blew through without a trace of rain. Looking out my upstairs window at the bare tree branches convulsing in the witheringly dry wind, I had a brief and terrible vision of what the city might look like if the drought continued month after month, if the trees died.

California is suffering from severe drought (state of emergency just declared by Gov Schwarzenegger). North Carolina farmers debating whether or not the drought there will break in time to get crops started on time. Southern Australia burning up. I wondered what was happening in the rest of the world.

Found this article:

*****Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production*****

According to this article, whose author has provided the sources listed below, many of the food producing regions of the world are suffering from severe drought, which means that food prices will probably increase significantly over the coming months. In some places, food will be hard to get at all.

I plan to go ahead with my spring garden in Lockhart, despite the dessicated land there. Will plant everything farther apart than usual, mulch heavily, and hope the La Nina weather pattern breaks up soon.

Sources for info on drought:

CHILE: Drought Raises Likelihood of Energy Rationing

Severe drought expected this time in Kerala, India

UN agencies provide food, supplies in drought-ravaged Burundi

Ethiopia said on Friday that 4.9 million of its people will need emergency food aid in the first six months of 2009 due to drought

Communities in northeast Kenya have struggled to survive without rain

foodstuff inventory data

possible 15% reduction in Europe's winter crop yield

Uruguay's intense, prolonged drought has limited summer crops, killed livestock, and scorched land

Greece forced to import water to drought stricken Aegean islands

Portugese water storage is still down from averages for the period 1990 to 2007

Prepare for possible worsening drought in Georgia-Carolina

South Africa scraps wheat import tax to ease shortage

Southern Africa: Maize Difference Yields

East Africa: Maize Difference Yield - Second Growing Season 21 January 2009

As of mid-January, cumulative rainfall across Tunisia’s growing region amounted to just about half its average level, the lowest in over five years

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Abbey of Regina Laudis

I do not know anything about this place, or the people who live there, other than what I have read online. Sometimes a place looks beautiful in pictures but turns out to be disappointing in real-life, but I have a feeling the Abbey of Regina Laudis is as represented, probably far better, because in real-life, you could smell freshly mown hay and hear the bells and the joyful sounds of the sisters' musical chanting.

Quote from Foundation History:

Robert Leather, an industrialist living in the area. He was a devout Congregationalist who cherished a piece of land he owned as a place of prayer. He wanted this pine-covered hill to be held intact and in perpetuity. He gave it to the nuns, knowing that they would care for it as a sacred place. This pine hill eventually became the heart of the 400 acres of land, both cultivated and wild, that comprise the Abbey of Regina Laudis today. <Foundation History)>

I found this monastery as I was doing a search on raw milk legislation. The sisters of Regina Laudis care for a small herd of Dutch Belted cows and sell the milk and cheese they do not need for their own use. Connecticutt residents are facing the same restraints on personal freedom that we are presently facing in Texas -- legilation that would prevent the sale of raw cow's milk except at the site on which it is produced, and then only to the ultimate consumer. I was feeling upset about the pending bill here in Texas, because I very much prefer the taste of raw milk over pasteurized. I have no educated opinion about the health benefits of raw milk over pasteurized, but it makes sense that some of the nutrients would be destroyed by heating -- certainly to useful bacteria would be killed along with the potentially harmful. Anyhow, I was feeling upset that I might no longer be able to buy raw milk at the Life Emporium, my neighborhood health shop when I came upon a story about the monastery. Learning that the monastery exists cheered me greatly. Just knowing that places of peace and joy exist in the same world as all the terrible stuff one hears about is vastly comforting.

The sisters have recorded some of their beautiful chants and sell them in their online shop, where one can listen to portions of some of the chants.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Modified Genes Spread to Local Maize (Mexico)

NATURE|Vol 456|13 November 2008

Transgenes from genetically modified (GM) maize (corn) crops have been found in traditional
‘landrace’ maize in the Mexican heartland, a study says. The work largely confirms a similar, controversial result published in Nature in 2001 (ref. 1) and may re-ignite the
debate in Mexico over GM crops. The paper reports finding transgenes in three of the 23 locations that were sampled in 2001, and again in two of those locations using samples taken in 2004. Written by a team led by Elena Álvarez-Buylla of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, the study will be published in the journal Molecular Ecology.


However, the new paper doesn’t confirm an important conclusion from the original Nature paper — whether the transgenes had been integrated into landrace genomes and passed along to progeny plants. Álvarez- Buylla suspects this may be the case, but she’s not interested in pursuing another round of politically charged battles — and will leave that work to others.

Another Way to Fight Off a Cold

I just received this advice from my brother: on the day when the very first symptoms appear, wear a surgical mask when you sleep. This will slightly raise the temperature of the respiratory tract, making it impossible for the virus to replicate. The person my brother got this tip from has not had a cold in 20 years, and my brother says he's had cold symptoms three times since learning this, has used the mask each time, and has not developed a full-blown cold.

Makes sense to me -- I shall definitely give it a try next time I feel a cold coming on. In fact, I already have some lovely washable and reusable silk masks that I wear when there's lots of pollen or mold spores in the air, and when I'm outside in cold weather. In fact, it's just occurred to me that when I was wearing the silk comfort mask every night, I never got a cold. I had stopped using it temporarily, because the elastic had stretched out, and I did not want to take the time to replace the elastic or order a new mask. Big mistake!

Here's a link to the website where you can buy one of these masks:

The photos are from the website. I often use the mask when I'm working in the garden. Looks a bit weird (my husband, the very famous and hilariously witty novelist, critic, futurist and polymath Dr. Damien Broderick, says it makes me look like a puppy -- a cute one, of course), but it surely keeps me breathing easier.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How to Fight Off a Cold

Last night, my throat felt a little sore, and I took a couple of zinc tablets and irrigated my sinuses. This morning when I woke up my throat was really sore, and I had the generally yucky feeling that goes with a cold. I used to get very, very sick with colds -- the initial viral infection would almost always be followed by a secondary bacterial infection. I'd be sick for at least two weeks.

For the last few years, I've been able to cut the process short by taking zinc tablets at the first sign of a cold and irrigating my sinuses every 3 or 4 hours with a neti pot, and eating citrus. Taking vitamin C tablets doesn't help, nor does frozen orange juice; it has to be fresh citrus.

This cold that started last night, though, was one virulent infection. For a while, I was sure it was going to lay me low. Still, it was worth trying to fight it. I added a 30 second gargle with Listerine to the routine, every time I used the neti pot, but I kept getting worse. About noon, I went out to the garden and dug up an echinacea root. I've added a photo of the very root at the top of this entry. Some research articles say the echinacea helps the immune system; others say it doesn't. One thing I can say for sure -- it works to ease sore throat pain. The inside of the root is brownish gray with dark brown rings. What I do is slice off little bits of the root and chew it, holding it in my mouth for a while. The taste isn't bad at all, a bit like a radish. At first, it makes the tongue feel prickly, then the prickles spread to the nasal sinuses and throat. Then the pain just goes away. It's similar to the way aloe vera leaves stop the pain of minor burns.

I've eaten a slice of echinacea root every couple of hours for about six hours. For a while, my throat felt better, but the rest of me kept feeling worse, but around 6:00 I started feeling better all over. I now feel almost normal, but I've continued the treatment. I'm a little worried that the virus will get the upper hand again during the night, since I won't be doing the treatment as often. But I feel so good, perhaps my immune system has things under control.

I suspect that the conflicting echinacea research may be due, at least in part, to the types of echinacea used. For example, most of the inexpensive echinacea you find at grocery stores consists of dried leaves. The good stuff is mostly in the roots; there isn't much of it in the leaves, especially, I'd think, after they've been dried. The dried leaves aren't of any use, except maybe as a placebo.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Good Machine Friend

I never would have admitted to this, if I had not discovered that other seemingly normal people feel the same way. I think of my chainsaw as a friend.

The orange chainsaw in the photo is my second Stihl. The first one burned when one of Bluebonnet Electric Co-op's poles fell on a neighbor's land and started a brush fire that ended up burning down my house, workshop, chicken pens, rabbit hutches, and storage sheds. Luckily, I was living in the city at the time, so no one was killed or injured, except possibly the pack rat who had set up housekeeping under a futon (I hope the little creature smelled the smoke and got away in time).

Anyhow, when I lived at Altamira, having a nice big stack of firewood always made me feel secure, like having plenty of beans and corn stored for the winter, or having plenty of money saved up. I hate being cold. In fact, I have such a fear of being cold, one would think I'd frozen to death in a former lifetime and still carried the memory of it. There's something especially comforting about having a fire blazing in a box in my home. It's much nicer than a gas space heater, and infinitely nicer than central heat. I love almost everything about wood burning stoves. Even having to build up the fire in the morning isn't bad at all, because I always shovel out some of the ashes to make room for more wood, and there are always glowing hot coals mixed in with the ash. The bucket of warm ashes is a marvelous foot warmer.

Back to the chainsaw - since the chainsaw makes it possible to cut up much more wood in a give amount of time than I would be able to cut using a hand saw and ax, I've developed quite a fondness for it. I felt ... do I dare put this down in writing? ... incomplete without a chainsaw after my old one burned.

I think the photo will be too small to show another friend of mine, but when the photo is enlarged, you can see Alex the Savannah cat lying in his favorite spot by the stove. He's in the background, between the plastic bucket of wood and the stove.

Texas A&M Maroon Bluebonnet

These are pretty in the garden, but I prefer the blue wildflowers that make pastures look like reflections of the sky for a couple of weeks in the spring.